Who We Serve

Kimberly Ortega

“When I was about to take the stage, I was really, really, really nervous,” Kimberly Ortega says of the moments before her TEDxYouth Talk last March. “I mean, extremely nervous.”

Her anxiety was well-founded. After all, the College Track Boyle Heights then 9th-grader was in heady company. Through the years, TED Talks have been delivered by the likes of Isabel Allende, Malcolm Gladwell, and Steve Jobs. And here was Kimberly, a high school freshman, about to step onstage before a crowd of unfamiliar faces, armed with just a mic and her voice. “It was terrifying!”

But for Kimberly, experiences like this, “when I don’t know what I’m getting myself into,” have come to define her journey. “Getting out of my comfort zone is the path I want to take,” she explains, “because that’s what allows you to experience new opportunities and learn things you wouldn’t learn otherwise.”

In other words, the uncharted territory outside her comfort zone has, through repeated visits, become comfortable. “Once I took the stage,” Kimberly reflects, “I was confident because I knew I had practiced so much and knew what I was talking about. So I just let my words speak, and I felt so proud to tell people about my experiences and to share my dreams with them.”

“Dreams to some may seem wild or a fantasy,” Kimberly tells the audience early in her TED Talk. But her dream, she maintains, is far from farfetched. “My dream is to get into and graduate from Harvard,” she states plainly. “And to accomplish that dream I am going to work hard, putting 100 percent into everything I do: academically, with extracurricular activities, and with College Track.”

College Track, she says, has been a driving force behind that unwavering mindset. And like her TED Talk, the program was at first a leap of faith. “I didn’t know much about College Track before I joined,” she recalls. “But I wanted to try something new that was outside my usual experience, and once I got in I realized this was going to be a great program for me, that I would always get the support I will need to apply to college, get into college, and graduate.”